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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, April 18, 2024


First Minister’s Question Time

Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021

1. Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I remind members that my wife is a serving officer with Police Scotland.

When we opposed the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021, the Scottish Conservatives warned that the legislation would overburden our already overstretched police. Now, that is exactly what has happened. Forty officers a day have been brought in, on overtime, to deal with 9,000 reports of hate crimes in the first two weeks.

Calum Steele, who is the general secretary of the International Council of Police Representative Associations, has said:

“Police officers have been left embarrassed by this week’s hate crime farce, with some left so angry they have told me they have never been more ashamed of being in the police service than they are at this moment.”

He added that officers have been pulled from other parts of the service to deal with those complaints.

Why does Humza Yousaf think that he is right and the police are wrong?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I remind Douglas Ross that, in almost a quarter of the hate crime reports, the victims are police officers. Not only that, but we can say from the statistics that we have to hand that many of them suffer the most outrageous abuse, some of which is directed at them because of prejudice in relation to their sexual orientation and some in relation to their race.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed what I think is the most worrying and concerning debasing of our political discourse by the Conservative Party, in relation to the hate crime act. Just imagine, Presiding Officer, that the Conservatives had been successful in repealing the hate crime act. If the act did not exist, the stroke of a pen would have removed protection from stirring up of hatred against those who suffer racist abuse, antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, or abuse because of their disability. What a reckless and, frankly, unforgivable approach is being taken by a party that seems to be more interested in gaining shoddy tabloid headlines than in protecting people from hatred.

“Shoddy tabloid headlines”, for quoting police officers—[Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Ross.

Douglas Ross

A voice was given to police officers in this chamber, and that is the response that they get from their First Minister. It is a disgrace that the First Minister is unwilling to accept the failures of his act and listen to the voice of police officers up and down the country.

If he will not listen to police officers, he should listen to others, including the Conservatives, who said that the bill was too vague, was poorly defined, and would not work. Now, some of Scotland's top legal experts have said the same. Alistair Bonnington, who is a professor of law at the University of Glasgow, has said that the law is

“extremely dangerous”


“could see entirely respectable and reasonable citizens prosecuted for expressing viewpoints which the law would allow in almost every country in the world.”

Lord Hope, who is a former Supreme Court justice and Scotland’s most senior judge, has said that the act has “misfired” and has described it as “unworkable”. As the Scottish Conservatives have done, he has called for the hate crime act to be repealed.

Why does Humza Yousaf think that he is right and legal experts are wrong?

The First Minister

In all that, the one group of people whom Douglas Ross is refusing to listen to are the victims of hate crime. That has been consistent over the past few weeks, when Douglas Ross has come to the chamber to speak about the hate crime act.

Let us look at some of the details. Of the 8,984 hate crime complaints that were made to Police Scotland in the first couple of weeks of April, the vast majority—at least 95 per cent—have been deemed not to be crimes. The idea that there would somehow be mass criminalisation of people simply for expressing their opinions, or for being insulting or offensive, did not materialise. Why did it not materialise? If we look at the detail of the 2021 act, it makes it abundantly clear that, for the new stirring-up offences, behaviour has to be both threatening or abusive and intended to stir up hatred.

We have a piece of legislation that does what any civilised society would want a piece of legislation of that nature to do: it protects people from hatred. Of course, there is an appropriate balance to be struck in relation to protecting people’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

If only the Conservatives spent more time opposing hatred than they do opposing the hate crime act, they would be in a much better place.

Douglas Ross

We are opposing Humza Yousaf’s bad SNP law because of the impact that it is having.

Victims of hate crimes are not getting support from the police because the police are being inundated with thousands of complaints. We are hearing that from the police and from legal experts.

We said at the very beginning that the act would put free speech at risk. Members will all have heard the report of a 74-year-old pensioner who was taken by the police to a station over a dispute with her neighbour. That grandmother was not charged and had not committed an offence, but she has been punished by the process—exactly as we warned would happen, just a few weeks ago.

Public opinion is already against Humza Yousaf’s law. A recent poll found that two thirds of Scots thought that the hate crime act should be repealed.

Why does Humza Yousaf think that he is right and the public are wrong?

Once again, in that question, Douglas Ross did not mention the victims of hate crime. [Interruption.]

I did. I literally said it.

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

Time and again, Douglas Ross forgets to mention the very people who suffer hatred.

In the figures for 2021-22, almost 7,000 hate crimes were recorded by Police Scotland. Those are almost 7,000 people who have been the victims of racist abuse, antisemitism, Islamophobia and transphobia, and people who have been the victims of hatred because of their sexual orientation or disability. Those people deserve protection.

What we have seen in the past few weeks is deliberate disinformation from the Conservatives and many other bad-faith actors who have refused to look at what the law actually does. The law is abundantly clear that, for the new stirring up offences, behaviour has to be threatening or abusive and intended to stir up hatred.

In relation to police officers, let us go back to what Police Scotland has actually said. Let me commend and thank Police Scotland for the incredible job that it has done, despite the fact that there have been many bad-faith actors in relation to the hate crime act. In Police Scotland’s own words, there has been a “minimal” impact on front-line policing in the first couple of weeks.

Let me thank police officers not only for the work that they do, day in and day out, in tackling hate crime, but for the fact that almost a quarter of hate crime reports are against police officers themselves.

Douglas Ross

Humza Yousaf is describing opponents of his bill as “bad-faith actors”. They are the two thirds of Scots, who, at the moment, want to see his legislation being repealed.

Humza Yousaf is sitting there saying that everything is fine with his legislation, just as he did with the ferries that he could not get to sail, the trains that he could not get to run on time and the NHS waiting lists that grew under his stewardship of the health service. [Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Ross.

Douglas Ross

We warned him that all these problems with the hate crime act would happen. We warned that the police would be overwhelmed, and that the law was poorly written and would put free speech at risk. He dismissed every single valid criticism. Humza Yousaf said that he knew best.

Now, the police, legal experts and the public are telling him that he has got this badly wrong. The only person in Scotland who seems to think that the act is working well is Humza Yousaf. How on earth can the First Minister say that the hate crime act has been a success?

The First Minister

Once again, Douglas Ross misrepresents the facts. The Parliament did not back the Conservatives. In fact, with the exception of the Conservative Party, the Parliament backed the act. When Douglas Ross’s party lodged a motion to repeal it, the majority of members in the Parliament rejected that motion.

When I talk about bad-faith actors, I am talking about the Conservative Party. I also mean, for example, neo-Nazis—those on the far right—whom The Observer reported were organising and orchestrating complaints to Police Scotland. They are, by any stretch of the imagination, bad-faith actors. Far too many such actors have been spreading disinformation and misinformation. Despite that, despite what they had been warning—which was proved to be untrue—and even despite what I suspect some of them wished, the police dealt well with those thousands of complaints. Only a minority of such complaints have ended up being recorded as hate crimes.

Time and again, every one of us stands up in the chamber to say that we have a zero-tolerance approach to hatred. I have to say that that has been sorely tested by some comments that the Conservative Party has made in recent weeks. If they have that zero-tolerance approach, they should be getting behind the act and supporting the victims of hatred.

Climate Targets

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

When Humza Yousaf was standing to be leader of his party, he promised to “meet and better” Scotland’s climate targets. When Rishi Sunak rowed back on the United Kingdom Government’s climate commitments, the First Minister said that he had “no intention to change” Scotland’s target dates. This is what he had to say about Rishi Sunak’s approach:

“the UK government’s actions, in the face of that climate catastrophe are simply unforgivable”.

He continued that what the UK Government was saying

“is that ... we can row back on our commitments and ... it is the planet, it is people that will suffer the effects.”

Today, the Scottish National Party-Green Government will row back on its climate commitments. Why is Humza Yousaf following the Tories’ lead?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Untrue. This is probably why it is wise to listen to the detail of a parliamentary statement before coming forward with a misleading mischaracterisation of our position. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

As the Parliament will hear later this afternoon, there is no intention to row back from the 2045 date in order for us to reach net zero five years ahead of the UK Government and to continue to have more ambitious climate change targets than, for example, Labour-run Wales.

We have made progress. Between 1990 and 2021, we reduced our carbon emissions faster than any other nation in the UK. Let me also be clear that this Government will not move back by a single month, a week or even a day from the 2045 target for achieving net zero.

The Climate Change Committee was always clear that the 2030 date was a stretch target. That was clear to all of us when we committed to that target and backed it in the first place. What does not and will not change is the end destination of 2045. The cabinet secretary will come to the chamber with details of an accelerated package of climate action.

Time and time again, all that we have heard from Anas Sarwar and his party is opposition to every single measure that we have proposed. If he and other Opposition members are serious about tackling the climate crisis—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

—it is time for them not to shy away or run away but to back the ambitious climate action that we will propose.

Anas Sarwar

We voted for the Government’s targets. That was such an embarrassing response from the First Minister. Such an embarrassing argument might have worked with Patrick Harvie or Lorna Slater, but it is not working with the Scottish people.

Let us be clear. Last month, Chris Stark of the Climate Change Committee said that the Scottish Government’s carbon reduction targets were “no longer credible”. He has been clear that, in many areas, the Government has all the powers that it needs to make a difference, but it has not taken action.

The response across Scotland to the Scottish National Party and the Greens rowing back on their climate commitments has been—rightly—scathing. Oxfam Scotland this morning called it “an acute global embarrassment.” Friends of the Earth Scotland said that it is

“the worst environmental decision in the history of the Scottish Parliament”.

Even one of the First Minister’s own ministers described it last night as very disappointing. We must have the only Green Party in the world that supports scrapping a climate change target. Is that why more and more people across Scotland are asking what the point is of this SNP-Green Government?

The First Minister

Anas Sarwar started his second question by saying that the Labour Party backed the targets. That is not in dispute. The point is that, time and again, every time we have brought action to the chamber, Anas Sarwar has opposed it.

Anas Sarwar sits there and shakes his head. When we introduced a transport bill that included a workplace parking levy, Labour tried to remove that levy. Not only that, but Labour’s transport spokesperson called it “highway robbery” and a “car park tax”. That was despite the fact that a Labour-run council in England had already introduced a workplace parking levy—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

Under this Government, we have made progress, whether that is in the fact that 87.9 per cent of our electricity generation comes from zero-carbon or low-carbon sources or the fact that 75 per cent of all new woodland creation throughout the UK is here in Scotland. We have made progress with the success of the offshore wind leasing round by ScotWind. We have one of the most generous concessionary travel schemes in the UK and we have put £65 million towards 2,700 electric vehicle charging points.

When Màiri McAllan comes to the chamber this afternoon, we will build on that progress by introducing an accelerated climate change proposal and plan. It is important for those who demand action to unequivocally support that bold and radical action. Failure to do so will be nothing other than hypocrisy.

Anas Sarwar

Only Humza Yousaf could believe that slamming on the brakes—because that is exactly what the SNP is doing this afternoon—is an acceleration. We already know that Humza Yousaf supports a tax on workers but not on the oil and gas giants, which are making record profits. The fact is that he is rowing back on his climate targets, and the Green Party is backing him up.

The SNP-Green Government’s failures mean higher bills, fewer green jobs and other countries winning the global race for clean energy. While the SNP and Greens fail to meet their promises on jobs, Labour will deliver more than 50,000 clean power jobs in Scotland. While the SNP and Greens cut the money to retrofit homes, Labour will upgrade thousands of homes to make them more energy efficient. While the SNP and Greens sell off Scotland’s sea bed on the cheap, Labour will deliver a publicly owned energy-generation company, headquartered here in Scotland—[Interruption.]

Let us hear Mr Sarwar.

Anas Sarwar

We all know that Scotland has huge potential. The people of Scotland gave the SNP a huge opportunity, which it has wasted. Is it any wonder that people across the country believe that the SNP has lost its way, that it has the wrong priorities and that it is letting people down every single day?

The First Minister

In the very short list of actions that Labour will be taking, one policy was absent—the £28 billion that it pledged for the green prosperity fund. Instead of £28 billion, we get a brass plaque that will undoubtedly match Labour’s brass neck.

Let us cut through the soundbites and lack of substance from Anas Sarwar, and stick to the facts. Scotland has reduced carbon emissions faster than any other part of the UK—that is a fact. We are absolutely committed to no rolling back on the net zero by 2045 target—that is a fact. The equivalent of 113 per cent of Scotland’s overall electricity consumption in 2022 was generated by renewables—that is a fact. Seventy-five per cent of all woodland creation throughout the UK is in Scotland—that is a fact.

The only green policy that Labour had was the £28 billion a year green prosperity fund, which it has dumped. It takes pride in the fact that its reckless plans are risking up to tens of thousands of jobs in the north-east, all to fund new nuclear power stations in England.

This afternoon will be a key test. When the Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy brings forward an accelerated package of climate proposals, it will be time for the Opposition to either put up or shut up.

Climate Change Committee Scotland Report

3. Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

To ask the First Minister, in light of the recent report by the Climate Change Committee, how the Scottish Government plans to accelerate action to ensure that Scotland achieves net zero by 2045. (S6F-03007) [Interruption.]

I am sure that no member can possibly think that that is courteous or respectful behaviour when another member is putting a question.

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Màiri McAllan will give details of exactly that accelerated policy package when she stands up this afternoon. I will not pre-empt the details of that here.

The Scottish Government is very appreciative of and grateful to the independent Climate Change Committee for its latest advice. We welcome the recognition of where we have made progress, but we also take extremely seriously the fact that we have not made the progress that we needed to make in order to get to the 2030 target. The Climate Change Committee has made it clear that that target is beyond what we are able to achieve, and that is why Màiri McAllan will come to the chamber this afternoon to give details of the accelerated policy package that we will bring forward.

We remain absolutely committed to ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change in a just and fair way by 2045. As a reminder, that is five years ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom. The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy will make a statement in Parliament this afternoon on the response to the Climate Change Committee’s report, and the fundamental premise of that statement will be around the accelerated response to the climate emergency.

Ariane Burgess

One positive from the Climate Change Committee’s report was its praise for our programme to deliver greener, warmer homes through an upcoming heat in buildings bill as a template for the rest of the UK to follow. We have already seen Opposition parties in the chamber call for climate action and then corral the full forces of climate denialism as soon as we propose any change to business as usual. How will the First Minister’s Government build support for our heat in buildings proposals and ensure that everyone in Scotland can benefit from greener, warmer homes?

The First Minister

Ariane Burgess is, of course, entirely right. That approach is symptomatic of an Opposition that continues to demand action and, every time we bring forward action, it opposes it for opposition’s sake. People will absolutely see through that time and again.

This afternoon, when we come forward with further, detailed proposals on how we intend to accelerate our response to tackling the climate emergency, people will be watching to hear whether the Opposition backs those radical proposals or is just full of more hot air.

We will continue to develop our proposals for a heat in buildings bill to tackle climate change and ensure that everybody in Scotland has a warm and affordable house to live in. The recent consultation on those proposals drew nearly 1,700 responses. We are now analysing those responses, and feedback will be published shortly, later this year. The proposals are a critical part of our response to the climate crisis, and it is welcome that they have been recognised as a template for the rest of the UK.

Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

World-leading climate change targets being delivered by bad-faith actors in the form of the Scottish Government was always going to be a challenge—and so it has proved, with the Scottish Government failing to meet eight of its last 12 emissions targets. That is an embarrassing record. It now appears that the Scottish National Party and the Greens are considering scrapping annual targets in order to hide their shambolic record. Will the First Minister rule that out, or is his Government now retreating in the fight against climate change?

The First Minister

What a cheek. What a brass neck from a party that has decided that it will approve hundreds of new oil and gas licences without any question whatsoever. What a cheek from a party whose own net zero targets are behind ours. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

We are five years ahead of where the rest of the UK is in relation to our net zero ambitions.

I go back to my central point. People will be watching. When we bring forward the accelerated package of climate action, will it have the backing of the Opposition? Time and again, the Opposition parties—the Conservatives in particular—demand that we take action, but they opposed the workplace parking levy, the deposit return scheme, the heat in buildings strategy and every single measure that we bring to the chamber. That demonstrates how unserious and complacent they are when it comes to the climate emergency.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

This week’s memorandum of understanding between HD Hyundai Heavy Industries, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise is a vote of confidence in Scotland as a strategic hub for offshore wind, which is a crucial element of our journey to net zero. Can the First Minister outline what support the Scottish Government is offering to the offshore wind industry to secure jobs and investment that will support Scotland’s economy?

The First Minister

I was very pleased to see the signing of the MOU between HD Hyundai and our enterprise agencies, which is a real demonstration that, through efforts in Scotland in particular, Scotland’s offshore wind sector is attracting global attention.

The Offshore Wind Industry Council has predicted that the number of jobs in the sector in the United Kingdom could grow to more than 100,000 by 2030. That is why we are investing up to £500 million to anchor our offshore wind supply chain in Scotland, to act as a catalyst for further private sector investment in order to ensure that the Scottish workforce and Scottish businesses and communities all benefit from the offshore renewables revolution. Such collaborations are undoubtedly vital—key, in fact—to delivering wider economic supply-chain benefits to help power Scotland’s growing green economy.

We will continue to work closely with our enterprise agencies and with the Scottish National Investment Bank to foster relationships with global industry partners.

UK Migration Rules (Seasonal Workforce)

4. Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what impact the Scottish Government considers this month’s changes to United Kingdom migration rules will have on the seasonal workforce in Scotland, as the soft fruit sector begins to prepare for the summer season. (S6F-03030)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The United Kingdom Government’s policies to reduce net migration are an example of decisions that are taken at Westminster that work directly against Scotland’s vital national interest. Increasing the skilled worker visa threshold from £26,200 to £38,700 makes no sense whatsoever for Scotland nor, I suspect, for many parts of the UK. It will limit labour migration in areas of Scotland that already face significant challenges around depopulation.

Although the increase in the salary threshold does not currently affect seasonal horticultural and poultry workers, migrant workers play a vital role across the breadth of our entire economy. These changes could cause irreparable damage to the food supply chain and to the sustainability of our rural economy. It is only with independence that we would have the ability to devise a humane, principled approach to migration that is needs based and delivers positive outcomes for Scotland’s communities and public services and for our society more generally.

Keith Brown

Every day, we hear about the harm that Brexit is causing the Scottish economy, and indeed the UK economy, with the cost now estimated at £140 billion. I say that, but there is a conspiracy of silence among the unionist parties, which will not raise a word of concern or criticism about the effect that Brexit is having.

Today, I, along with other members of the Parliament’s Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, visited an exporter, who said that it is “utterly exhausting” trying to deal with the new burdens that Brexit imposes. He talked about businesses that have gone bust overnight, and some that no longer export.

Scotland’s rural industries in constituencies such as mine are bearing the brunt of Brexit. The new migration rules are just the latest in a long list of toxic Tory Westminster policies. A Labour Westminster Government would do nothing to change that; it would keep Scotland out of the European Union, out of the single market—

Can I have a question, Mr Brown?

—and without freedom of movement.

Does the First Minister agree that Scotland needs not a change of Government at Westminster, but the change that only independence can bring?

The First Minister

There is simply no doubt that Brexit is relentless. The damage from Brexit has been relentless, as are the impacts that are being faced across the labour market as a result of Brexit.

New import controls that have come into effect have threatened to cause hikes in food prices once again. Of course, that is on top of the Conservatives’ mishandling of the economy, which has seen food prices rise to levels that have caused such suffering and misery.

Changes to migration policy, combined with the loss of people coming from the EU to live and work in Scotland, make it harder for key sectors such as social care, agriculture and hospitality to recruit—and, crucially, to retain—vital staff.

Keith Brown is absolutely right: Tory policy on migration is absolutely toxic, and the sooner Scotland is free of a Tory Government, the better. However, Labour offers little change; on the big issues such as rejoining the European Union, a Labour Westminster Government will change absolutely nothing. It is only with independence that we will once again join the European Union and have free movement of people.

NHS Lothian and NHS Borders (Finance)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports of significant financial pressures within NHS Lothian and NHS Borders. (S6F-03010)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

This year’s budget provides an increase of more than £0.5 billion to our NHS boards, taking our total investment in boards to £14.2 billion and the NHS and social care budget as a whole to more than £19.5 billion. The £14.2 billion represents a real-terms uplift for the NHS in Scotland, in stark contrast to England, where the Tories have shamefully cut funding to the NHS in real terms.

Despite our significant investment, we know that the system is under extreme pressure as a result of the on-going impact of Covid and many other things. The Scottish Government has on-going contact with all health boards, including NHS Lothian and NHS Borders, to address the financial challenges that they face. That includes scrutiny and challenge of financial plans and agreeing to support recurring savings where we can to ensure that there is financial sustainability.

Craig Hoy

On 16 December 2021, Humza Yousaf told the Parliament:

“Every member recognises the importance of Edington hospital being at the heart of the local community. I reiterate that and I understand that, and I know that NHS Lothian understands it, too.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2021; c 47.]

However, last month, as a result of a Scottish National Party cash crisis, NHS Lothian announced the permanent closure of beds at the Edington hospital, the Abbey care home in North Berwick and the Belhaven hospital in Dunbar. Meanwhile, local primary care providers have announced that they are facing massive increases in NHS Lothian’s facilities management fees, with Tranent facing the loss of 3,500 general practitioner appointments as a result. Before the First Minister blames someone or something else, will he finally take responsibility for the crisis that he and his Government have created in Scotland’s NHS?

The First Minister

Craig Hoy has the audacity to stand up and shed crocodile tears for our NHS while his party is cutting our capital budget by £1.3 billion. That capital funding could have, and should have, been used for health infrastructure projects. What a sight it is to behold to have Craig Hoy of the Conservatives demand that we spend more money while his party has cut our capital budget as well as cutting our resource budget in real terms by £500 million.

Of course, there are pressures on our NHS, which is why we have taken a different course of action to the Conservative United Kingdom Government, which has prioritised tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the NHS. Meanwhile, we are asking those who earn the most, such as people on an MP’s salary or a First Minister’s salary, to pay more so that we can provide more funding—record funding—to our public services such as the NHS. That is the difference between the Conservatives and the SNP, and I make no apologies for it.

Post Office Horizon Convictions

6. Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the First Minister whether he will provide an update on what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the Lord Advocate regarding the exoneration of Scottish sub-postmasters and mistresses whose convictions were based on evidence from the Post Office’s Horizon computer system. (S6F-03033)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

As the member knows, the role of the Lord Advocate as head of systems of prosecution is an independent function. I hope that she is assured by the fact that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs and I have had discussions with the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General on a number of occasions. We continue to press the United Kingdom Government to extend its Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill to cover sub-postmasters and mistresses in Scotland. Today, the justice secretary has written to the UK Government with suggested amendments in order to achieve that. I am happy for that letter to be made public.

If the UK bill is not extended, we will introduce Scottish legislation. Although Scottish legislation can be introduced, it would need to be passed after the UK bill. That is essential so that we can take into account any amendments that are made during the passage of the bill at Westminster, to ensure that there is compatibility with UK legislation, because the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government have no responsibility for or power over the UK compensation scheme.

Pauline McNeill

We now know from recent coverage in the press that people at the top of the Post Office lied all the way about Horizon—and that goes down to our Crown Office. However, the Crown Office accepted an interim report by the accountancy firm Second Sight as corroboration that the Horizon system was okay, despite the fact that the director of the firm said that the report revealed “system flaws” with Horizon. As the First Minister knows, the onus has so far been on postmasters themselves to appeal their convictions, and I am sure that we agree that that is wholly unacceptable.

I wonder whether the First Minister agreed with Kevin Drummond KC that the Lord Advocate could present a petition to the court of criminal appeal to inform the court that the convictions had been found on flawed evidence and could invite the court to overturn the convictions. We all want the quickest route to justice, and that might be a quicker route. Does the First Minister agree that the miscarriages of justice could be dealt with quicker in Scotland, where those miscarriages of justice took place, and that our Crown Office should be responsible for the actions that it took?

The First Minister

I entirely agree with Pauline McNeill that the onus cannot and should not be on sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses, who have waited far too long for justice.

I also reiterate what the Lord Advocate said a number of months ago—or certainly a number of weeks ago—that she would be willing to update members directly on the questions that they have. Any petition going to the courts would not be a matter for me as First Minister; it would of course be a matter for the Lord Advocate.

There may be some difficulties in identifying so-called Horizon cases, which is slightly more complex here in Scotland. I know that Pauline McNeill will completely understand this, but the Post Office cannot bring forward private prosecutions in Scotland in the manner in which it can in England. Secondly, as the Lord Advocate said previously, the Crown has often chased the Post Office for further information to be able to triage Horizon cases, and that information has often not been forthcoming. Pauline McNeill will also be aware that, in Scotland, prosecutions do not simply rely on one piece of evidence—on Horizon data, for instance—and there would often have to be corroborative evidence in such cases. Triaging those cases can therefore be a bit more challenging.

I do not disagree with the premise of Pauline McNeill’s question at all. If there is a quicker way or route to get justice—at the same time, we do not want those convictions that are sound to be overturned, with those people then liable for compensation—we will explore every avenue that we can. We want no delay whatever, and we will continue to work with the UK Government to do the simplest thing, which is to ensure that the UK legislation applies UK-wide.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

In November 2023, Kenneth Donnelly, on behalf of the Crown Office, undertook, in paragraph 73 of his written statement to the Wyn Williams inquiry, that a “streamlined and expedient process” would be brought forward to secure the quashing of the convictions. Why has the Lord Advocate not brought that forward?

Given that we all want to achieve the aim of the swiftest possible delivery of exoneration of people whose lives have been destroyed and ruined—in some cases, they are now dead—should we not at least now publish the proposed Scottish legislation in draft, rather than let the matter drift on further, into the autumn?

The First Minister

There is nothing stopping us from introducing specific Scottish legislation, and we are working on what a bill would look like in the event that the UK Government does not accept the very reasonable amendments that have been tabled to ensure that the Westminster bill is UK-wide, which we think is the simplest and easiest way to ensure fairness and equity between sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses across the entire UK. I still have concerns about the UK Government’s approach; hence, I hope that it is open to amendments, so that we can ensure a minimising, if not complete elimination, of those whose convictions are sound having their convictions overturned.

On the questions that Fergus Ewing directly asks me, I understand that the Lord Advocate has written to Fergus Ewing, but if that is not the case I am more than happy to ask the question that Fergus Ewing has put to me to the Lord Advocate, so that he gets a detailed response.

I say once again that we are working on Scottish-specific legislation, although I go back to the central point that we cannot allow a situation where sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses in Scotland are treated differently from how they are treated in England in relation to access to compensation.

We move to general and constituency supplementary questions.

Undercover Police Officers (Personal Details)

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

The work of undercover police officers is secretive, sensitive and dangerous, yet Police Scotland is investigating claims that the personal details and photos of undercover officers have been leaked to an organised crime group. When was the First Minister’s Government first made aware of those serious allegations? What impact might they have on policing operations? Most importantly, what has been done to protect officers who might now be compromised?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Russell Findlay has every right to raise the issue, and I share his deep concern, particularly because of my previous role as Cabinet Secretary for Justice, when I worked closely with the serious organised crime task force.

We know how important and imperative the work of our undercover police officers is. Of course, it is an operational matter for Police Scotland, and I have no doubt that Russell Findlay could write to the chief constable to gain as many assurances as possible, but I understand that the matter is still under live investigation, as we speak.

I thank police officers for the excellent work that they do, often putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us. I share Russell Findlay’s concern, but the protection of officers is a matter for Police Scotland. I will ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs writes to Russell Findlay with details about when the Scottish Government first knew of the allegations.

Women Against State Pension Inequality

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

Can the First Minister confirm to the WASPI women—women against state pension inequality—who are watching this question time and to those who are protesting outside Parliament today that the Scottish Government stands with and supports them in their continuing battle with the United Kingdom Government for compensation? Will he personally lend his weight to urge UK ministers to bring forward a compensation plan for my Rutherglen constituents and other WASPI women across Scotland with the utmost urgency?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government has always supported—and always will support—the WASPI women. The report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is a significant moment for all those who have been involved in the campaign. I pay tribute to every woman who has tirelessly fought, not just for their rights but for the rights of all women who have been impacted and affected by those disgraceful decisions that the UK Government made without the women’s knowledge.

It is time for the UK Government not just to apologise but to deliver justice and compensation for its actions, so I am writing to the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition to call for urgent action following the ombudsman’s report.

I reassure members that this Government will not rest until WASPI women receive the justice that they absolutely deserve. I look forward to meeting WASPI campaigners after this question time and reiterating to them that, although they might have been abandoned by the United Kingdom Conservative Government—and also, it seems, by the UK Labour Party—the Scottish National Party stands firmly with them in their pursuit of justice.

Cass Review (Sandyford Clinic)

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

The Parliament is aware that, this morning, Sandyford clinic announced that it will no longer prescribe puberty blockers to 16 and 17-year-olds—a key recommendation in the recently released Cass review. Members in the chamber should know whether that decision has been taken as a result of any Scottish Government intervention and whether the First Minister and his Government are supportive of a wider acceptance of the recommendations in the Cass review. After the poor and woeful answers that we received yesterday in the chamber, will the First Minister intervene, where the health secretary has not, and ensure that a statement is made in the Parliament to clarify the Government’s confused position and to allow members an opportunity to question the Government on this very important matter?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I will quote directly from an interview that Dr Hilary Cass did just a few days ago. She said:

“The toxicity of the debate is perpetuated”—[Interruption.]

I am astonished that Conservative members are groaning at the fact that I am quoting Dr Hilary Cass. She said:

“The toxicity of the debate is perpetuated by adults, and that itself is unfair to the children who are caught in the middle of it. The children are being used as a football and this is a group that we should be showing more compassion to.”

It is to that very last point that I want to draw attention, because compassion for this group of young people must be at the forefront of everything that we do. I absolutely believe that it is at the forefront of Carol Mochan’s mind and the question that she asks. Therefore, it was absolutely right to allow clinicians to have conversations with the young people whom they treat compassionately, before the Government came forward with any further statement in relation to clinical decisions that were being made. Now that we have had that confirmation, the health secretary or ministers will, with the agreement of the Parliamentary Bureau, come to the chamber next week or in the coming weeks to give an update on the Government’s position.

There is a process of review that is very much under way, but I go back again, not just to the central point about compassion but to the point that, when it comes to the treatment and the care that is provided to these young people, decisions on such matters should be made by clinicians, and not entirely by politicians.

Scottish Economy

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Will the First Minister welcome the news that was eloquently set out in today’s Herald that Scotland is outperforming the United Kingdom as a whole in private sector business activity, is third among the UK’s 12 regions and nations for economic growth and is currently enjoying the greatest expansion of business activity in nearly a year, and what assessment has he made of devolved decision making’s impact in delivering those positive outcomes?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Kenneth Gibson is absolutely right to raise those issues. The news will come much to the upset of the doomsayers as regards Scotland’s economy, but Kenneth Gibson is right to point out that Scotland’s economy is, across a whole range of measures, outperforming the UK economy. I welcome his efforts to counter those who would talk down Scotland’s economic success.

Scotland’s gross domestic product per capita has grown faster than the UK’s since 2007, and since 2007, productivity in Scotland has grown at an average annual rate of 1 per cent, compared with the UK’s average rate of 0.4 per cent. Through Stuart McMillan’s question, we have already heard about the partnership between Scottish enterprise agencies and HD Hyundai Heavy Industries. That is just one example of the investment that we are attracting to Scotland. Think how much more we could do if we were not tied to Brexit-broken Britain. Brexit has been an unmitigated economic disaster. If only we had the full fiscal and monetary levers of a normal independent nation, think how much more we could do.

Bowel Cancer Screening

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

April is bowel cancer awareness month. Bowel cancer is the second biggest cause of cancer death in the United Kingdom. However, Scotland’s excellent screening programme could be better. The Government has signed up to increasing the sensitivity of the current tests, which will undoubtedly save lives. Sadly, the Government has not yet delivered. As a first step, will the First Minister now commit to evaluating and publishing the costs of making bowel cancer screening more sensitive?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I pay tribute to Edward Mountain, who has spoken about his cancer journey extremely bravely and with good humour. He has brought members across the political spectrum together to challenge us—the Government in particular—on what more we can do. I will have a conversation with the health secretary and we will examine and explore what more we can do in relation to the sensitivity of the excellent screening programme that we already have. Although it is an excellent screening programme, we always want to seek to do what we can to improve it and ensure that we capture more people as early as possible. Edward Mountain knows only too well that the earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis for the individual involved.

I will consider Edward Mountain’s ask, and I once again pay tribute to him for his efforts in raising awareness of bowel cancer and cancer more generally.

National Health Service (Workforce Data)

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

This morning, we learned from the British Medical Association Scotland that more than 600 consultant vacancies are missing from Scottish Government official statistics. Clinicians have repeatedly warned of the workforce crisis in the national health service, but ministers have been quick to say that there is nothing to see here. Now we learn that the published data is entirely misleading and that the vacancy rate is 15 per cent, which is more than double the 6.9 per cent that is given in official statistics. Will the First Minister guarantee that all workforce data will be urgently reviewed to ensure accuracy? Will that shocking revelation be the wake-up call that is needed to set out a credible NHS workforce plan?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

We will always look to see what can be done to ensure that our statistics are rigorously checked using the appropriate means and in the appropriate manner. Where any challenges are raised, we take them seriously, particularly when they are from an organisation such as the BMA.

When it comes to NHS staffing under the Scottish National Party, we have seen a record high of more than 33,000 full-time-equivalent staff between September 2006 and December 2023. We have more staff per head in Scotland than they do in England. We have more qualified nurses and midwives per thousand of population than they do in England. Overall nursing and midwifery staffing is at a record high, and the number of medical and dental consultants is up by 68,000 under the SNP.

That does not take away from the fact that there continue to be workforce vacancies, as Jackie Baillie highlights. That is why we will continue to do what we can to attract, recruit and retain those staff. A key element of that is ensuring that NHS staff continue to be the best paid anywhere in the United Kingdom.

That concludes First Minister’s questions.